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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Aizuri Quartet March 8 in Mill Valley (A. Wasserman photo)

SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT

by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020

From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society board encouraged the audience to spread out and suspended their practice of offering refreshments at intermission.

Dvořák first wrote Cypresses as a song cycle set to Czech poems by Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky. It was 1865 and Dvořák was in his twenties. More than 20 years later he transcribed 12 of the songs for string quartet. Of these the Aizuri players played three, unidentified in the program, all lush and evocative. Performing with deep feeling and exquisite calibration, the Quartet gave a rewarding reading, full of thoughtful rubato, pulse and coloration. The music suggested wind in cypress trees, the movement of clouds and the heartbreak of unrequited love. Ayana Kozasa’s viola sang with golden resonance, the violinists Miho Saegusa and Emma Frucht played soaring and sweet phrases and cellist Karen Ouzounian’s deft bow conveyed the ache of longing.

The Aizuri Quartet, based in New York City, was founded seven years ago, and for their Bay Area performances they chose the theme of “Songs and Echoes of Home,” each work referencing folk song and story from a different culture: Czech, Estonian, Armenian, American and Finnish.

Ms. Ouzounian introduced her husband Lembit Beecher’s four-movement work “These Memories May Be True.” Mr. Beecher (b. 1980) based his composition on his Estonian grandmother’s stories “of migration, hardship and overcoming.” The Aizuri performed it with a depth of feeling and virtuosity. Its fragmented themes suggest the fragmentation of his late grandmother’s life after she was forced to flee her country, and a 19th-century Estonian folk song weaves mysteriously throughout, perhaps a link to her past. The four movements are Old Folk Song, The Legend of the Last Ship (and Other Collective Memories), Estonian Grandmother Superhero, and Variations on a Somewhat Old Folk Song. Each was at turns wistful and haunted, with spurts of dissonant harmonies, flurries of vitality, and quiet moments of suspended breaths. The audience responded enthusiastically to the nuanced performance.

Ms. Kozasa next introduced a set of Armenian folk songs arranged by Komitas (1869-1935), calling them “a window into the Armenian soul.” Née Soghomon Soghomonian, Komitas led a productive but ultimately tragic life, collecting and transcribing more than 3,000 Armenian folk songs as well as collecting Kurdish folk songs. The Quartet performed five charming folk songs. “It’s Cloudy” flowed gently, while “Festive Song” evoked lively ritual and festivities. “Dance for Shushiki,” in three-quarter time, pranced and twirled. It was followed by a muscular dance and a children’s song (“Song of the Partridge”) with string pizzicato, delicate harmonics and strong unison playing.

After intermission, the Quartet performed “At the Purchaser’s Option” by Rhiannon Giddens (b. 1977), arranged for string quartet by Jacob Garchik for the Kronos Quartet. Ms. Saegusa said by way of introduction that this was a dark side of American history - slavery. “Through music we get a glimpse into pain and sorrow but also determination and resolve,” she added.

The South Carolina composer’s song was inspired by a 19th-century advertisement for the sale of a young woman and her baby. The words to the song, printed in the program, reveal the young slave’s strength (“You can take my body/You can take my bones/You can take my blood/But not my soul”). It’s a poignant melody and the arrangement was a pleasure to hear, but ultimately the song is thin fare for a string quartet. The simple, repetitive clarity that make it compelling when the words are sung with banjo and bass accompaniment create little opportunity for compositional development with four string players.

The afternoon’s greatest work came last: Sibelius’s titanic five-movement String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56, composed in 1909 between his third and fourth symphonies. The quartet evokes the wild landscape of Finland and the deep interior reflection such a landscape inspires.

The first movement, Andante – Allegro molto Moderato, begins introspectively with a mournful four-measure dialogue between violin and cello. As the other instruments join in, the music becomes harmonies in motion, like waving fields of grain or windswept tundras, and this grace continues throughout the work. The Adagio di molto second movement was played fast and bright with much use of tremolo, and had a scurrying quality and frequent references back to the main theme. The third movement (Allegretto) is the heart of the piece and the Aizuri gave a reading of deep yearning. Sibelius penned “voces intimae” on the score above three muted repeating chords in this movement. There were interior shifts to lightness, foreboding, a catharsis and a final burst of intense musical feeling before coming to resolution. The fourth movement, Allegro (ma pesante), began ominously with an intense, almost existential questioning in phrases that persisted to its conclusion. The finale Allegro movement was performed with restless momentum and shadowed in perpetual motion, building to a cadence that rushed to an exciting close.

Clearly elated with the performance, the audience honored the musicians with a standing ovation. There was no encore, and afterwards the musicians lingered in the lobby to greet friends and wellwishers, and many stopped to personally thank them.